The history of the pen as a handwriting tool is very old. Since ancient times, man has used plant stems to spread ink on papyrus and parchment or metal stems to engrave on wax tablets. Already the ancient Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans knew these techniques, then with the advent of paper, the birds feathers began to be used, from the sharp point to the point of leaving a thin line on the paper.
From the ancient Egyptians to the Middle Ages
We can say that the history of the pen, therefore, begins with the Egyptians. The first pen to write something on papyrus was an empty straw with a small tip that was wetted in a rubbery solution, mixed with charcoal powder and other vegetable substances: the first ink with which hieroglyphs were written on papyrus. The ancient Greeks and Romans instead used metal styles to engrave tablets covered with wax and stems of plants to spread the vegetable inks on the parchments.
The next step in the history of the pen took place according to historical-archaeological surveys with all probability between the 5th and the 6th century AD when the birds feathers began to be used, hence the name handed down to the present day by pen. From the Middle Ages onwards the use of goose feathers was preferred, which due to their durability and resistance remained the most widespread tool to write practically until 1800. The tip of the pen was frequently tempered, as is done with modern pencils, and before using it for writing he had to be immersed in the inkwell, a bottle that contained the ink.
The history of the pen enters modernity: the fountain pen
The history of the pen enters the modern age in the first half of the nineteenth century with the introduction of the first metallic nibs: however, there was a problem, their rigidity. It was the English journalist and publisher James Perry (1756-1821) who, applying cuts and punctures, gave the nibs the elasticity necessary for writing. Thus began to spread steel nibs mounted on wooden or ivory canes that were used as goose feathers.
However, the nibs adhered more ink to the sheet. The criticism this time was represented by the fact that by moving the nib from the inkwell to the sheet drops of ink fell so it was studied to mount the nib on a hollow cylinder inside, to be filled with ink. The idea of the fountain pen was born.
The definitive solution for not letting pens lose ink is attributed to the American Lewis Waterman (1937-1901), an insurer by profession. In 1884, he patented his invention which consisted of adding a hole on the tip of the pen so as to let in air.
In the early 1900s, a rubber tank was then introduced which allowed the pen to be refilled with ink by dipping the tip into a bottle and applying pressure to the tank to be filled. The fountain pen, easy to use and quick to write, will experience enormous success and diffusion, at least until the debut of the ballpoint pen.
The ballpoint pen
The last stage of the history of the pen bears the name of another person who used it as a profession, the Hungarian journalist, László Biró (1899-1985). Two of his brilliant intuitions. Birò began to use the same type of ink used to print the newspapers to write, denser than that of the stylus but also faster to dry.
To use this type of ink the tip of the fountain pen did not go well, so at the end of his pen, Biró put a small movable sphere: the sphere slides on the paper collecting ink from the cartridge inside the pen and then writing on the sheet simultaneously. The ballpoint pen, or biro, is inexpensive, easy to handle and very practical to use and was born to no longer be replaced by other handwriting tools.
Today the pen is much less used than in the past, we can say that we live in the historical era in which the pens “serve less” in absolute terms. However, no technological evolution can ever replace the pleasure of writing by hand, just as the originality and elegance of a handcrafted pen can never be replaced, among other things, a gift idea generally very much appreciated by all the ages.